The offseason of firing, parting ways, and new hires have resulted in lacklustre results for the Calgary Flames. With American Thanksgiving quickly approaching and a brutal record to open the season, it might be time for GM Craig Conroy to start working the phones. The Flames have three massive pending unrestricted free agents on the blue line in Nikita Zadorov, Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev. Simply stated, the Flames need to maximize their asset value on the trade market as the team continues to trend down.
Zadorov is an appealing trade chip
Nikita Zadorov seems the most likely candidate to move first as he holds the lowest cap hit between the three defencemen at $3.75M for the 2023–24 season. It’s definitely possible the Flames move Noah Hanifin or Chris Tanev first or possibly in conjunction with Zadorov. But, in a salary cap world, the cap space is a major consideration for most teams who are looking to add.
On Sportsnet’s 32 Thoughts podcast, Elliot Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed rumours that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers were two teams to keep an eye on in the rumour mill. Friedman specifically sighted Zadorov as a top candidate for both teams, noting that a deal with Edmonton would have to fetch a return that would warrant “a banner hung in the new building” for the Flames.
Let’s take a look at the two teams and what might come to be if trade talks got more serious.
Zadorov to Toronto
With Brad Treliving reworking the Maple Leafs roster this offseason, the team has lacked heavily on the back end. The Leafs struggled with defensive issues last season and heavily relied on then-39-year-old Mark Giordano down the stretch. With Treliving’s connections to Calgary, and more specifically Craig Conroy, the Leafs would be at the top of the list for defensive UFA trade suitors.
Will Conroy hold his own and get top value from his former mentor? As a new GM in the NHL with valuable assets due to expire at the end of the year, it could be difficult for Conroy to get his foot in the door of the old boys club. Treliving on the other hand, might just be the suitor to give Conroy and the Flames the jump they need to rebuild.
|Calgary Flames Receive||Toronto Maple Leafs Receive|
|T.J. Brodie (D) – (50% retained)||Nikita Zadorov (D) – (50% retained)|
|Fraser Minten (C)||2024 4th Round Pick (CGY)|
With a tight salary cap on both ends of this trade, T.J. Brodie is a logical option for the Leafs to move out. The 33-year-old defenceman has the lowest Corsi For percentage at 46.7% among Toronto blueliners, but the second highest salary at $5.0M. Although Brodie has a no-trade clause, he will be a free agent at the end of the season and a return to Calgary could be something the veteran goes for.
The Flames and Maple Leafs each retain 50% of Zadorov and Brodie’s contracts to comply with the cap. Then add in Fraser Minten as a prospect moving in the deal, the Flames could get a good forward prospect in return for taking on more salary in the deal. That said, Zadorov is not a game-breaking defenceman, so a fourth-round pick rounds out the trade.
Minten, a 2022 second-round pick is one of the Leafs’ most highly anticipated prospects and would be worth the Flames sending over up to a third-round pick for. The draft compensation for Minten is where Conroy can really play his cards well. The Leafs have major expectations to win and the Flames hold an asset that could put them over the top. Is winning now enough for Treliving to lose some value down the road? If the Leafs demand any more than a third, Conroy should hold on and shop at the deadline.
Although the Flames don’t obtain any futures in this deal, Fraser Minten’s upside is hard to look past and would be worth the pick headed back to Toronto.
Zadorov to Edmonton
On that note, a deal with Edmonton could warrant a third team to comply with the cap and provide the supposed banner-worthy return. With goalie trouble harbouring the Oilers, I’d assume they look to address goaltending first, but also continue bolstering their blueline. Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner have been bad. It’s culminated in Campbell hitting the waivers yesterday, which will make things more interesting for the club. They will free up just under $1M in cap space once he is cleared, leaving some more cash to fill their glaring lineup issues. However, they have to call up a goalie regardless, and this means they’ll have cap savings of under $400K when it’s all said and done.
So with that said, the trade to Edmonton is spicy. The Flames should consider Jacob Markstrom in a deal with Edmonton. Although Vladar has been the center of much trade talk this season, Edmonton needs a bonefide number one goaltender and Markstrom is the logical solution.
Like Friedman said, it would take a banner return.
|Calgary Flames Receive||Edmonton Oilers Receive||Ottawa Senators Receive|
|2024 1st Round Pick (OTT)||Jacob Markstrom (G)|
|Evan Bouchard (D)|
|2024 1st Round Pick (EDM)||Nikita Zadorov (D)|
|2024 3rd Round Pick (CGY)|
|2025 5th Round Pick (CGY)|
It’s a lot to ask of the Edmonton Oilers, but for all three teams, it’s a win-win-win.
Calgary retains 50% of Markstrom and Zadorov’s contracts, eating $4.875M this season, and $3.0M the following two seasons (Markstrom). This alone in my eyes warrants a first-round pick headed back to Calgary.
But, the Oilers decided to sign Jack Campbell for $5M a year and he’s headed to the minors. So, that leaves a lot of cap space the Oilers still need to free up.
Enter, Evan Bouchard and the Ottawa Senators. Do the Oilers want to trade Evan Bouchard who has 10 points in 11 games as a defenceman? No, but they don’t have a ton of options. Ottawa has had a tough start to the year and Bouchard would look mighty fine on their back end with Jakob Chychrun. Bouchard warrants a first-round pick that gets sent to Calgary and they compensate Edmonton for Bouchard with a third in 2024 and a fifth in 2025.
With this deal, the Flames can afford to pay half of Markstrom’s salary for the next three years. If you stick with Dustin Wolf and Daniel Vladar, the tandem will cost at most $5M after this season with Wolf entering RFA status this offseason. Essentially, the salary you retain this season on Zadorov’s contract pays for Wolf’s extension this offseason and the Flames gain $3M going into next season as a franchise fully committed to rebuilding.
Trade options for Team Tank
I hate being a pessimist but sometimes you have to be a realist. This season seems to be going off the deep end for the Calgary Flames with diminishing hope they can turn it around. Both preseason Cup favourites in the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs also starting the year slow and need to turn things around immediately. Waiting for the trade deadline might mean the Flames lose the potential value of their assets, and acting at opportune times can net major returns.
Although Craig Conroy isn’t in the worst position as an NHL GM, he has to capitalize on these trade opportunities and stand true to his claims in the offseason. If he doesn’t, his career as an NHL GM could be in jeopardy.
The 2023–24 season has the potential to pave the way for Calgary Flames hockey in years to come and hopefully turn the team into a new direction, the next era.
Photo by Aman Kurji.